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The Scene On The Ground In Kabul Is A Familiar One For Afghanistan


Now we want to talk about what's going on at the U.S. embassy. That's where most diplomats had been evacuated to the airport. And it complicates the job of four U.S. officials in Afghanistan, whose mission now is focused on getting Americans out as well as Afghans who have been working with the U.S. U.S. military officials had said that airlifts out of Kabul would be able to evacuate thousands a day. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here now.

Greg, can you tell us what is known so far about what's happening at the airport?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, a lot of uncertainty. The latest update we've seen was posted on the website for the U.S. embassy, saying there are reports that the airport is taking fire. And as we just heard it, that may not be confirmed, but that's - those are the reports. It's nighttime in Kabul, and we've been hearing from people on the ground there that helicopters are overhead all day long. But we're not hearing any reports that airplanes have been landing or taking off.

So we don't know what the situation is. One can only imagine the the sort of panicked atmosphere that must be at the airport, at the U.S. embassy itself. And they're just a couple of miles apart. Just as sort of a visual, Kabul sort of sits in a bowl with mountains ringing the city. The airport is at the northern end of that bowl right at the base of the mountains. The embassy is just a couple miles away, so it's a very short trip. Most of the staff is out of the embassy and presumably at the airport, waiting to get out.

CORNISH: You said most of the staff is out of the embassy. We had heard reports about kind of the protection they were supposed to have from U.S. troops. What were - what was that security supposed to be?

MYRE: So there were about a thousand U.S. forces in the capital doing that, protecting the embassy and the airport. More have been arriving in the past couple of days. It's supposed to get up to 5,000. We don't know how many are there. But there should be at least a sizable force that's able to make this trip, this sort of two-, three-mile trip between the embassy and the airport with helicopters and provide security.

CORNISH: Was the assumption that that force would be in some way having to move defensively?

MYRE: Well, it was not defined as a combat mission. The mission is just to securely carry out this airlift. But these are well-armed American troops. If they come under fire, they will be able to defend themselves. So, again, I won't get ahead of ourselves and say that there's been any shooting yet. The mission is the airlift. But they will - they're armed to defend themselves.

CORNISH: To remind people about that airlift, just how many Afghans who had been supporting the U.S., could be left behind were in the pipeline with discussions to leave?

MYRE: Right. So it's many, many thousands, and nobody's putting a number on it. The one figure we sort of have is roughly 17,000 or so of these Afghan translators who've helped the U.S. but also family members. So people have talked in the tens of thousands - 60-, 70-, 80,000 people that might potentially be in the airlift. But obviously, they would have to be in Kabul, have to be able to get to the airport. That's in addition to U.S. diplomatic personnel.

CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Greg, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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